Running Geek: You Can Run a Marathon

“Whether you believe that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right,” Henry Ford.

I came across this great quote from Henry Ford in the middle of the woods during an 18 mile, four-hour trail run recently, and it really struck a chord with me. I am a firm believer that almost anyone can do a marathon. I don’t mean anyone can go out right this second and complete one, but I do believe that with some training, and the right amount of belief and willpower in one’s self, it is possible.

When I tell people that I’ve run a bunch of marathons and half-marathons and that I’m currently training for my first 50K trail race, they often think I’m crazy or say things like, “Wow, I could never do that.” I get where they are coming from, though, because I used to be exactly the same way.

Me in my natural habitat at age 13.
Me in my natural habitat at age 13.

A little background on me and running: up until about seven years ago, I was the opposite of what anyone would call a “runner.” In high school, I was the last kid to finish the mile–usually in the 13 to 14 minute range. And even then I was red-faced, out of breath, and felt like puking. Running and I were not friends–we were enemies. I vowed never to run unless I had to.

It should come as no surprise, then, that by the time I was 21–with no desire to do any real exercise, especially not running, and plenty of desire to sit in front of a computer as much as possible–I found myself looking at a scale that read “256” (I’m six feet even). But even that wasn’t enough to turn me around; it just made me stop using the scale. I’m not sure how much weight I gained after that, but I’m going to conservatively guess I made it to at least 265.

I finally decided to do something about it, but I still refused to run. Through a combination of Pilates, starving myself, doing lots of DIY projects on my house, and Metabolife (yes, I took a ton of this crap and managed not to die) I shed a lot of weight very quickly without actually being healthy at all.

Another six years went by and I found myself, through a complete lack of effort on my part, in poor shape again with a lot of weight back on when a friend, also not a runner, told me that she was going to train for a marathon. I said the same things I often hear–“That’s crazy! Marathons are for athletes! I could never do that!” But, after 8 months of training, she finished her first marathon and loved the hell out of it.

Inspired by her success, I signed up for the same training group the following year. It was a huge turning point for me. I could run AND enjoy it. Maybe running and I weren’t enemies after all. Maybe we could become friends? I know a lot of people love the camaraderie that comes with running groups and races, and it can be motivating and inspiring, but I also learned to enjoy the solitude of running alone in a group of people–getting lost in those crowds, my breath and heart in my ears, I found and lost myself all at once.

I trained and did 2 half-marathons and 2 full marathons in my first year as a runner. Unfortunately, I kept having injuries that would slow me down. I went through half a dozen pairs of shoes trying to correct them, fixing one problem but causing another–runner’s knee, planar fasciitis and IT Band pain to name a few.

The second year, with injuries continually occurring, I became disheartened and thought that maybe running wasn’t for me after all. Maybe I had been right and running long distance was for “real” athletes.

With no races, little training, and the year coming to an end, I heard about and read a new book–Christopher MacDougall’s Born To Run. I decided to give running one more chance. In the subsequent year, I ran two marathons and two half-marathons. I beat my marathon PR by almost 30 minutes and my half-marathon PR by almost 20 minutes! And the best part was that, through all the training and races, I didn’t miss a single day due to injury. Minimalist running was the puzzle piece I had been missing. Running and I could now actually be good friends.

Over the next three years, I did another five half-marathons, one marathon and several 5K and 10K races. Although I’d made some improvements in my running form and times, I’d gotten stuck in a rut. My wife and I also had a baby, which severely hampered my ability and desire to get up early and go running. It was hard to sacrifice what little time I had outside of going to the office doing anything other than hanging out with my little geek.

But last year I decided to take back running for myself. I felt I needed to, not only for myself, but as an example to my son. I had no real role-model for being healthy or fit growing up, and so I wasn’t. I wanted him to be able to look up to me as he grows and see someone who can balance being healthy and fit with having family and work responsibilities and being a geek, so I decided to bite the bullet, set some goals, and hire a running coach.

I set three major running goals–sub 4:00 marathon, sub 2:00 half-marathon, qualifying for Boston–and two stretch goals–completing my first ultra race and placing in my age group in a race. I then looked up Eric Orton, the coach of Christopher MacDougall from Born to Run, and started online distance training with him.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a total geek for data, and when it comes to running, there is a ton of data to be gathered from all of my apps and gadgets. I’ll be writing more about all of those in the future, but here is just a small taste of the metrics I’m tracking, and how far I’ve come with my coach in just one year.

1 Mile8:116:46

With less than a year of training, I significantly shaved a lot of time off of all my races. I was shocked when I ran a mile, at 36 years-old, in half the time I did when I was 13.

I also have been keeping track of some body metrics (more data!) via my scale, the Omron HBF-514C.

 Weight 171.6162.7164.0 166.2
 Body Fat %23.420.319.9 21.6
 Muscle %36.337.537.9 36.9
 Visceral Fat644 5
 Body Age444040 42
Me at the high point of the Crystal Mountain course with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Me at the high point of the Crystal Mountain course with Mt. Rainier in the background.

This past year showed me that training with a coach, especially the structure and accountability it provides, can make a world of difference. I not only met two of my three major running goals in my first year of training, but I also achieved my two stretch goals–I did the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon, which is considered an ultra due to the extreme elevation changes, and I placed second in my age group at the Cougar Mountain Marathon.

My son, Owen, doing his first race, the Disney Avengers Kids' Race.
My son, Owen, doing his first race, the Disney Avengers Kids’ Race.

With all of that under my belt, it all pales in comparison to the greatest achievement of the year–my son running his first race! I did the Disneyland Avengers half-marathon, and Disney have a handful of Kids’ Races as part of the series. He did the 100 yard dash, his first in, hopefully, a very long line of races as he grows up.

Here is my race schedule for the year. Look for more about them as they happen.

  • 1/17-1/18 – Disney Star Wars Rebel Challenge: This was a 10K on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday. It was also my son’s second race! You can read my race report on my personal blog.
  • 5/9 – Lost Lake 50K: This will be just as (if not more) challenging as the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon but the longest distance I’ve ever run!
  • 6/13 – Seattle Rock n Roll half marathon. This is a local regular for me that I’ll try to PR again this year.
  • 8/9 – Angels’ Staircase 35K. This was supposed to be my big race last year. It but got cancelled due to wildfires, so I’m going to try again.
  •  9/19 – Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon. This race was just too incredible not to do again.
Running geeks collect shiny metal bling.
Running geeks collect shiny metal bling.

I hope that I can help to inspire other geeks and dads to be healthy and to be good health role-models for our kids. Plus, who doesn’t like shiny collectibles? Yes, those are Star Wars medals. I hope you’ll follow me on my journey this year as I train for more races, and I promise I’ll include more info about my gadgets, apps, and data next time!

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